Newman Lake Fire District commissioners voted unanimously to approve the district’s 2011 budget and discussed ongoing plans to build a new station in a special meeting Monday night.
“It’s not really a whole lot different from last year’s,” Chief Keith Yamane said about the budget. “We’re pretty flat.”
Overall the amount collected from the EMS levy is expected to drop slightly (about $2,000) while the amount from the general levy is expected to increase by just over $21,500. That increase and a little more, however, is accounted for in plans to raise the amount set aside in the district’s reserve fund from $53,000 in 2010 to $75,000 in 2011. The district currently has about $270,000 in its reserve fund.
The overall 2011 budget is expected to be $553,000, which includes the $75,000 to be put aside into reserves. The chief is the district’s only full-time paid employee. There are also two part-time deputy chiefs, a part-time mechanic and a part-time finance officer. The district has two engines, three tenders, two brush trucks, a rescue truck, a fire boat and two command vehicles in two different stations. Eighteen volunteer firefighters man the district.
But most of the meeting and community input revolved around the discussion of a new station. The district has been moving steadily, if slowly, forward with plans for a new station since 2002.
“There’s been a lot of conversation throughout the community,” Yamane said. The district bought land at the corner of Starr Road and Moffat in 2003. Some architectural drawings have been done and site preparation work was done in 2007. This year a ground percolation test and elevation study were completed.
The district learned this year that an application for a FEMA fire station construction grant was denied, Yamane said. “As we go through this we’re going to be talking about a lot of different ways to finance that,” he said.
The commissioners seemed to agree that it was likely the district would have to use a bond to fund all or part of the construction cost. Other options include getting a standard bank loan or getting a loan from the Local Option Capital Asset Lending program (LOCAL). The district could also build the new station, which will include offices and community meeting space, in phases.
Construction costs and interest rates are low, making it favorable to build now if possible. “It’s not the greatest time to ask the citizens to pay out more in taxes,” said Commissioner Clayton Andersen. “We recognize that.”
The two dozen or so residents filling the small conference room at Station 1 did not argue about the need for a new station, but expressed concerns about how to pay for it. Resident Chuck Stocker recommended that the district have exact square footage and cost amounts before moving forward with a bond. “To me the real key is planning it from the start,” he said. “The need is evident. I don’t think there’s a question about the need.”
Station 1 was built in 1966. There is no sprinkler system in the building. Fire engines have gotten larger over the years, meaning there isn’t the required space between the trucks and the wall when parked in the garage at the station. Two of the district’s tenders won’t even fit through the doors. The other tender had to have its side mirrors modified in order to clear the doors.
The station has no emergency power system. When power is out firefighters have to raise and lower the doors by hand to get the trucks out. There isn’t a vehicle exhaust removal system, which means fumes seep into the offices. The building is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. “There’s no way we could make this building ADA compliant,” Yamane said.
The district originally hoped to break ground in 2011, but making that goal could be tricky, Yamane said. As the district moves forward with its plans, efforts will be made to keep residents in the loop, he said. “We want you to have all the information.”